Boycott faces the final maiden over

Wherever he goes, from the cricket crease to the courtroom, he inspires passion and loathing in equally violent measure.
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He used to play on grass, did Geoff, but now a court in Grasse may well decide whether he has much of a career left at all. It's a right pickle, really. I mean, there he is, Yorkshire and England's greatest post-war batsman - statistically-speaking, anyroad - having to grovel before a French court, which, by heck, has got a lass as a judge, in order to try and prove that two years ago in a Riviera hotel he didn't belt his lover Margaret Moore in a row about money derived from a Shredded Wheat advert. It's not cricket, is this.

Boycott who reached 58 not out yesterday, would have been hoping to spend the next 42 years before his most important century, offering his services to the cricket broadcasters of the world, spouting on about the "corridor of uncertainty" outside a batsman's off-stump. But the uncertainty in his own career now resembles the width of the M62 motorway. For if Boycott fails in his appeal against his conviction earlier this year, it is almost certain that his broadcasting opportunities in Britain will shrivel significantly.

He was temporarily suspended from his role at the BBC as a Test match pundit after the French court's original verdict that he had beaten up the divorcee Mrs Moore, leaving her with two black eyes and severe facial bruising. Given that the cricket authorities have just sold the television rights to domestic Test matches to Channel 4, it is highly unlikely that a convicted batterer of women would stand much chance of a job on Britain's most politically correct television station. And obviously, a slot on Blue Peter would be out of the question too.

No wonder then that Boycott should have arrived in court with a bizarre collection of supporters and character witnesses, including several former lovers, the mother of his nine-year-old daughter and the king of tabloid publicists, Max Clifford. As a first XI, they were a fair representation of the ever-so-slightly barmy world in which Boycott has lived and played for most of his life.

A prodigious accumulator of runs during his career, Boycott was a player who divided cricketing opinion between those who thought he was the greatest batsman of all-time - this was, not unnaturally, his own view - and those who saw him both as an utterly ruthless self-server and a disrupter of team morale, whether in the service of Yorkshire or England. He was brought into the England Test team in 1964, after just two seasons in the Yorkshire side. In those pre-contact lens days, Boycott played in wire-framed spectacles that, with his boyish appearance, lent him an air of vulnerability. Here, apparently, was a shy, unworldly lad from a Yorkshire village being thrown in as an opening batsman against some of the most terrifying fast bowlers in the world.

Against this perception however, were the stories emerging about how the precocious batting talent was already inextricably linked with a ravening ego. It was said that when the teenage Boycott first heard of his call- up to Yorkshire by way of a tannoy announcement during a Yorkshire league match, he promptly marched off the pitch saying "Right, I'm through with this sort of cricket now". Indeed he was, proving himself to be a master of concentration and technique on the international Test match circuit, returning immediately to the nets to iron out flaws whenever the unthinkable happened and he was dismissed. His total of 23 "not out" innings out of 193 is quite remarkable given his status as an opening batsman.

But the apocryphal tales about Boycott accumulated at the same rate as his runs during a playing career that spanned close on 30 years. The one that is seen most accurately to sum up his status as a "non team player" involved an Ashes series in Australia in the early Seventies, in which England were being skittled by a new spin bowler - cricket history does repeat itself - by the name of Johnny Gleason. With four or five England wickets down, Boycott found himself in a rearguard action with Basil D'Oliveira. After D'Oliveira had seen out a maiden over against Gleason's wicked spin- bowling, he advanced down the pitch for a word with his team-mate. "Hey, Boycs," D'Oliveira whispered "I think I've worked this bastard out." Boycott is alleged to have eyed his colleague and replied "Aye, well, don't let on to the other c**ts". This self-serving attitude, which saw Boycott rack up 8,114 runs in 108 Tests for England, often came at the expense of the team's fortunes, but was a mere footnote in history compared with the havoc he is accused of wreaking on the county of his birth.

In his book We Don't Play it for Fun - A Story of Yorkshire Cricket, the journalist and broadcaster Don Mosey succinctly entitled his chapter about Boycott "The Dark Ages". Mosey's opinion was that "the controversies surrounding Geoffrey Boycott brought Yorkshire cricket to the very brink of total destruction". The main charges were that Boycott as a batsman was so obsessed with his own form and run-totals that he had little care for the team's progress, or that of young players, a dysfunction that was heightened when he assumed the captaincy of the county side between 1971-78.

But after seven years of the team under-achieving while Boycott personally amassed runs, he was sacked as captain, and although retained as a batsman, he was later dropped when he batted too slowly for the team's benefit in a vital match against Gloucestershire.

Boycott promptly began another decade of in-fighting with the Yorkshire committee. In 1987, Andrew Nickolds' BBC play Our Geoff chronicled Boycott's recruitment of a "fan's army", to take on t'committee, with actor Patrick Malahide, complete with lop-sided smile, portraying Boycott as a demagogue with a penchant for ticking off boy waiters for a shortfall of prawns in his cocktail. There are many who think that Boycott himself displays a similar deficiency.

In one of many wars of words with iconic Yorkshire bowler Fred Trueman, conducted in the letters page of The Times, Boycott wrote, in the style of Pol Pot, of his attempts "to eradicate disloyalty" within the club, while Trueman accused Boycott of presiding over "Yorkshire's worst results in a hundred years". Two ferrets in a sack could not have produced a more ferocious, but inherently comic battle. Indeed it is this farcical undertow to Boycott's career which continues to dog his attempts at serious statesmanship.

In the last round of Tyke blood-letting in 1990, when the county finally abandoned the "county-born" rule for its players, I phoned Boycott, by then a committee member, to catch up with his views. But first there was genuine surprise that I could have got hold of his ex-directory telephone number. "How did yoo get my noomber, lad?" he asked several times, before fending off my invitations to comment. "I'm not saying owt," he said firmly, "beekoss I'm just an ordinary committee member, and you should coom to my surgery in Wakefield, lad, if you want to hear what I think."

With the phone about to go dead, I tried one last gambit, suggesting that Boycott's position as Yorkshire's greatest batsman behoved him to speak. There was a short silence while the compliment was digested, and then he said "Aye, well..." before launching into a chapter and verse denunciation of his committee rivals.

Yesterday, as Boycott emerged blinking in the camera flashlights from the French court's late night sitting, that same paradox of guileless authoritarianism was on show again, as he launched into a prolonged moan about the court officials "conducting everything in French". It was almost as though it hadn't occurred to him that the French judicial system would use any language other than Tyke.

When he made a long overdue appearance on Radio 4's In the Psychiatrist's Chair, Boycott responded to Dr Anthony Clare's first question, "Why are you here?", with yet another artless display, masquerading as sophistication. "Beekoss my publicist thought it would be good publicity, so here I am!"

Boycott then proceeded to give very little away, apart from his admiration for Mrs Thatcher and a love of "creakit". But then perhaps there isn't that much to reveal anyway.

Unlike Alan Bennett's Talking Heads, in which solitary characters show the secret unhappiness inside them, Boycott is one television talking head who remains resolutely unpeeled. His retreat, last year, to Bournemouth, after a lifetime in Yorkshire, was probably the most shocking thing he has done, unless the court rules him guilty on 10 November. Indeed, Boycott's career, both on and off the pitch, has been literally single-minded, to the exclusion of such flourishes as slogging boundaries, serial shagging or getting involved in marriage, although he is obviously partial to the odd affair. Quaintly, these seem to have involved divorcees of, as the French courts might put it, un certain age, rather than the peroxide twenty-somethings which are the staple diet of most libidinous cricketers as they trawl up and down the motorways to games, or undertake three month tours of Zimbabwe.

For a long time, Boycott enjoyed the favours of a rich, older widow in the Yorkshire Dales, who left him a large sum of money in her will. It would therefore be considered as some irony if Boycott himself is brought down by a woman whom both he and his publicist plainly regard as the ultimate "gold-digger".